Ellisras CRP integral to SAAF radar ops


On top of Ga-Mabula, 1 163m above sea level in the heart of the bushveld, north-east of Ellisras is a mono-pulse secondary surveillance radar (MSSR) and an AR-3D Umlindi long-range deployable radar system providing real-time air picture displays with a 3D multi-purpose function, writes SAAF Museum officer commanding Major Ntokozo Ntshangase.

These capabilities are operated and maintained by 140 Squadron and is part of the SA Air Force (SAAF) Mobile Deployment Wing.

The systems are strategically sited at the Ellisras Control Reporting Post and information on airspace activity along the South African north-western border of the country is relayed to Lowveld Airspace Sector (LASS) at AFB (Air Force Base) Hoedspruit and Bushveld Airspace Control Sector (BACS) at Air Command in Limpopo and Gauteng.

Flight Technical Officer (Site Manager), Warrant Officer Class 1 Bertus Horn, a seasoned radar technician at Ellisras, is one of the professionals behind the operational serviceability of the SAAF’s radar systems. He is charged with ensuring uninterrupted running of the station and providing cost effective ground radar services to different stakeholders. Like many SAAF leaders, he is able to do much with less, operating and maintaining serviceability of nearly obsolete systems, according to Ntshangase. “To his advantage and notwithstanding daily challenges, he is supported by willing, dedicated and committed uniformed and civilian personnel.”

Security at the deep rural base housing the Ellisras CRP is in the hands of AFB Swartkop-based 501 Squadron. Ntshangase says of the air force that security personnel face a logistic nightmare and provision of security is “no mean feat and not for the faint-hearted”. This is mainly because the remote Ellisras site is home to and “enjoys” regular visits from, among others, baboons, warthogs, leopards and snakes.

No 2 satellite radar station, as Ellisras CRP was initially known, started operating in January 1964 under Captain CJ Schoon, the station’s first Officer Commanding. The station became known as Ellisras CRP on 28 September 1984. Since the early days of the Marconi S239, which provided radar height-finding, and a computer-controlled Plessey HF200, Ellisras integrated and transformed its systems for improved and faster track-and-trace capabilities. In its initial stages, the station was equipped with both L and S frequency bands powered by a 2MW transmitter and electronic countermeasures.